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I love a good comedy. Especially after a long day dealing with stressful and burdensome situations, there’s no better way to unwind than to have a good laugh. Often exaggerating life situations, failing to accept consequences for actions, and presenting us a world far from our own, comedies offer enough reality that we don’t need to think too hard, but not enough that we have to invest a lot of emotional energy. What can you do but relax and enjoy the ride? In many cases, a good comedy serves as an escape from what’s going on around us.

And yet, comedy can actually serve quite the opposite purpose, if done well. As Br. Tito and I discuss in this week’s podcast, using humor in art can be an extremely effective way to teach, engage people on difficult topics, and breakdown barriers that separate us. With our defenses down and our spirits up, we sometimes find ourselves unwittingly dealing with topics that we would otherwise avoid… and even enjoying the process.

More than a farce, more than an escape, effective comedy can actually be quite impactful on our world.

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Everyone knows St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua. They’re arguably the most famous saints in the history of the Church. Most people know of St. Clare, if for nothing else, that she was associated with St. Francis. And all throughout the world, the name Padre Pio has become more and more popular after being canonized a little over a decade ago. When most people think of the Franciscans, these names come to mind.

But… we’re an 800 year old movement. We are by far the largest religious family that has ever existed in the Church, and we’ve had some holy people along the way. Surely we have more than four saints, right?

Coming up with the exact number was hard to find (typical Franciscans, right?). If you include all of the saints who were professed as Secular Franciscans before becoming associated with another Order, the number is around 177, but even conservatively estimated, we’re well into the 100s.

That’s a lot of holy men and women. And I think we should remember them. In this week’s video, I’ve selected seven Franciscan saints that I think everyone should know, and offered my take on the holiness of our charism. If you stick around to the end, you might even get a quick joke at the expense of the Dominicans (no offense Dominicans!)

Going to church… can be a bit boring. Look out into the congregations of many churches and you will not find hoards of smiling faces, upbeat and excited about what they are doing. No, quite unfortunately, you will find many dour faces and low energy. The problem is so common, in fact, that Pope Francis even addressed it in one of his apostolic exhortations, bemoaning the loads of “sourpusses” he sees coming up for communion.

What a tragedy!

For me, there is nothing more life-giving in all the world than the community gathered for this sacrificial meal. It is the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians, the inspiration and strength we need to go out into the world. Catholics do not attend mass simply to get into heaven, as if it were something to be endured before we received our reward; no, we attend mass because it is a small taste of heaven itself. For those who know what is happening at the mass, it is the highlight of their week.

And I think that’s the key: “for those who know what is happening.” When you know what is happening, when you can follow the internal logic of the rite and can enter fully into the mystery before us, the experience is anything but boring. While the execution of the rite (stylistic choices, skill, personality, ability to follow rubrics) can obviously have an effect on the congregation’s experience (there are such things as bad presiders and choirs…) the Mass itself will always give life to those who understand.

And since I cannot fix every presider and choir or force every parish to be filled with joy and energy… the only thing I can do is shed some light on the rite itself, hopefully instilling in others the same love for the Mass that I have. With this series, my goal is to break the whole liturgy down to its individual parts, explain what each mean, and put them back together to reveal a coherent, artfully crafted act of worship that gives glory to God.

There are many ways that this can be accomplished. Some would explain the Mass in two parts, separating the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist; others would build the series around the three processions found in the mass; others still might focus entirely on the complexity of the Eucharistic prayer, breaking that down into four parts, with the Liturgy of the Word and Concluding Rites as bookends. All of these would make for fine explanations of what is going on in the rite, but they are not what I have chosen.

This series will be divided into six parts, a double series of three, following the same structural arc: Called in and prepared, Given a gift, and Sent out. 

Beginning first with the Liturgy of the Word, the first arc will begin with the gathering, call to worship, penitential rite, gloria, and collect. Through this series of actions, the congregation will be called in from their disparate lives and prepared to enter the worship. This will give way to the reading of Scripture and the recitation of a psalm, reaching its pinnacle in the reading of the Gospel. In this way, the congregation will be given the gift of Christ’s true presence in the Word. Bringing the first arc to a close, the homilist will make sense of what has been given, offering practical applications for lessons, and the congregation will respond with the prayers of creed and prayers of the faithful. All three components focus the attention of the congregation to the outside world where they are sent out to live what they’ve heard.

The structural arc will begin again with the preparation of the gifts, in which the congregation literally prepares for what is coming next: they not only prepare the altar for the physical sacrifice, but prepare their hearts for a spiritual one. The Mass then reaches its high point in the Eucharistic Prayer and reception of communion, in which the congregation is given the gift of Christ’s very presence in sacramental form. Having received this gift, the congregation has not just eaten a meal, but has become what it received: they constitute the body of Christ themselves. In this way, then, they are sent out to live as such in the world, announcing the Good News with their lives.

Called in and prepared, Given a gift, and Sent out.

Obviously, the Mass is a complex act of worship filled with more rubrics, history, and symbolic significance than can fit into a six-part series of 10 minutes videos. In preparing for this series, I read multiple Vatican documents, three different commentaries on the mass, consulted liturgists, and built upon my four years of theological study. Regrettably, there was a lot that I had to leave out, and decisions had to be made as to what to keep in. This series will not be the end-all-be-all of mass commentaries, nor will it be without its own flaws and personal biases. Since I had to choose what to include and what to leave out, this series, like any project, will ultimately be incomplete.

And I’m completely fine with that. My goal in sharing this work is not to provide the most complete, objective recitation of facts possible. No, my goal is to share the love that I have for the liturgy so that others may have faith. I do my absolute best to stick to the facts, never outright sharing my opinion on any topic, but there’s no question that my own experience and theology is behind the whole creative process. This series is about telling a story, not about reciting the official rubrics one by one. My hope is that, in sharing my passion for this great communal worship and offering the foundation for its logic, that others will be inspired enough to study the documents themselves and come to their own conclusions of what each part means, why they’re important, and how to share that experience with others.

If that sounds like something you’re interested in, or maybe something that would benefit someone else, I encourage you to join me each Friday for a new installment.

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After a little over a month off, Br. Tito and I are back at it! And boy… did we pick a heavy topic to start off.

Imagine being lost in space. Now imagine being lost in space, alone, for 21 years. Now imagine being lost in space, alone, for 21 years, knowing that you could technically “try” to fly back to earth, but you’re waiting for your fellow astronauts to return from their mission… but they’re ten years late and you have no idea if and when they’ll return.

Also, there is no earth to go back to, because earth has become uninhabitable and the whole point of the mission is to find a replacement planet meaning that you could be the last living thing in all of existence.

*Slumps into pit of loneliness and despair*

That is just one of the gut-wrenching, anxiety-inducing moments of the movie Interstellar. Imaginative and complex, this ambitious work of Christopher Nolan takes the viewer where they have probably never gone before—physically, through a worm hole and to a galaxy light years away—and emotionally, to an existential crisis right there within them. This movie has questions about the nature of existence, a philosophy of love, incredible special effects, high action, thoughtful drama, music by Hans Zimmer, and lots and lots of mathematical jargon.

Okay, that last one might not be for everyone.

This podcast is full of spoilers, so be warned, but frankly, what makes this movie amazing is not “what happens” but the experience along the way. Br. Tito and I could tell you everything about the movie—and we basically do in this podcast—and it wouldn’t take away the powerful effect the movie has on you. There’s just something about how this movie makes you feel and the questions that it evokes in you that makes it a stunning masterpiece.

Among the many ridiculous things that critics of the Catholic Church say about us, none is more bizarre than the attack that we are “cannibals.” Taking our doctrine of the real presence a bit too literally (and forgetting that they, mostly fundamentalist Christians, also have communion services in which they read Jesus’ words “this is my body”) they talk about us as if we were offering a live human sacrifice on the altar and sharing it among the congregation.

But unlike some of the other doctrines for which we are criticized in a ridiculous way (venerating Mary, baptizing babies, having a pope, etc.) I have the sense that most Catholics don’t know how to defend themselves on this issues. In fact, I suspect that many Catholics actually make the situation worse, misunderstanding our doctrine and perpetuating misunderstandings in their attackers.

We believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist… but we do not believe that it is actual flesh and blood. In this case, “real” takes on a very different significance than we are used to.

That’s the topic of these week’s Catholicism in Focus, the first of the season. Theologically, what are we actually saying when we say that Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Now, as a caveat not in the video (a reason why you should read the blog as well and not just watch the video!) there have been what are called “Eucharistic miracles” on various occasions in which the host has appeared to bleed. I have intentionally left these instances out of the video, not because I do not believe in them or because they challenge the point I’m saying, but simply because they are the exception. Regardless of whether or not you believe in such miracles, they are miracles precisely because they act against the normal way of things—the normal Eucharist that we celebrate does not bleed real blood because that is not what we believe is happening. If God so chooses to make it bleed so that some may have faith, as it appears may have happened a handful of times in history, then God is capable of such miracles, but they serve as the exception to the rule, not the norm.

Anyway, that might make more sense after watching the video, so you should do that first. Also, you should come back every Monday this semester for new episodes!